Thursday, September 01, 2005


Howell Raines, George Bush, And New Orleans

Howell Raines, former NYT Big Kahuna, writes:

...Every great disaster - the Blitz, 9/11, the tsunami - has a political dimension. The performance of George Bush during this past week has been outrageous. Almost as unbelievable as Katrina itself is the fact that the leader of the free world has been outshone by the elected leaders of a region renowned for governmental ineptitude. Louisiana's anguished governor, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, climbed into a helicopter at the first possible moment to survey what may become the worst weather-related disaster in American history. She might even have been able to stop the looting in New Orleans if the 141st Field Artillery of the Louisiana Army National Guard had not been in Iraq for the past 11 months. They are among thousands of Southern guardsmen who could have been federalised by the stroke of a pen had they not been deployed in a phony war. Even Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi, a tiresome blowhard as chairman of the Republican National Committee, has shone a throat-catching public sorrow and sleepless diligence that puts Bush to shame. [...] Meanwhile, in Baton Rouge, an army colonel seemed to be the most senior federal official at a televised news conference called to announce a Corps of Engineers plan to drop sand bags into the raceway of the broken levee. The proposed drop did not take place because the shortage of helicopters was such that the aircraft had to be diverted to rescue work. Twenty-four hours later, on Wednesday, as Bush met by intercom with his emergency team and considered a return to Washington, as Pentagon and Homeland Security promised relief by the weekend, intensive care patients were dying at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. They had languished for two full days because the overworked coast guard helicopter crews available in New Orleans did not have time to reach them. As for the Superdome refugees, it finally fell to the governor of Texas to announce that they could come to Houston's Astrodome. What other American president, one wonders, would fail to house these people in the decent barracks available at the closed and active military bases scattered throughout the South? The plain fact is that Jimmy Carter did a better job of housing the Mariel refugees from Cuba than Bush has done with the citizens of New Orleans. The populism of Huey Long was financially corrupt, but when it came to the welfare of people, it was caring. The church-going cultural populism of George Bush has given the United States an administration that worries about the house of Saud and the welfare of oil companies while the poor drown in their attics and their sons and daughters die on foreign deserts.
He's writing in The Guardian, of course. I doubt that any US paper would print this. (Though the NYT's editorial this morning was a pleasant surprise.) Well, someone should ask Mr. Howell Raines if he now feels ashamed for leading the Wars on Clinton and Gore. If Howell Raines hadn't spent the 1990s trashing two men whose shoes he's not worthy to lick, New Orleans' levees would have been reinforced by now, and the city would have survived -- because President Gore would have made sure they were. (And we would have had the tax revenue to do it, because we would never have slashed taxes on the rich and we wouldn't have gone haring off on a war of choice in Iraq.)

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